The final 125 seconds of Super Bowl XLIX included a perfect possession by New England quarterback Tom Brady for the points to take the lead, a juggling catch that could have been the play of the year, and a victory-clinching, end-zone interception on a pass – not run – from the one-yard line.
A game that got off to a slow start wound up with a “Whoa!” finish, much like the victorious Patriots’ whole season.
Brady threw two of his four touchdown passes in the final quarter to erase a double-digit deficit, then rookie Malcolm Butler picked off Seattle QB Russell Wilson’s short throw while the Seahawks’ top running back Marshawn Lynch watched.
The Patriots’ 28-24 victory over the defending champions in a classic Super Bowl ended a decade without an NFL title.
“Every team has a journey,” said Brady, who was voted Super Bowl MVP for a record-tying third time, “and a lot of people lost faith in us early. But we held strong. We held together.”
He was talking about the preceding months, not minutes. But either made sense. After all, in September, when New England lost 41-14 at the Kansas City Chiefs to fall to 2-2, there was talk about whether Brady was done, whether the Patriots were simply no longer a powerhouse.
Yet, on Sunday night, when coach Bill Belichick was asked when he knew he had a special team, he pointed to half-time in that poor performance against the Chiefs. “We weren’t having a good day, but we kept fighting,” said Belichick. “To me, if there was ever a time that we were not going to compete as hard, that would have been it… the fight and the competitiveness was there, and that gave me a lot of confidence going into the next week’s game. That was a key point in our season.”
And so the Patriots weathered the scrutiny that came with an NFL investigation into whether they deliberately deflated footballs in the AFC championship game two weeks ago. They focused on the Super Bowl.
And they set aside Brady’s two interceptions that helped put them 24-14 down in the fourth quarter. They moved into the lead when Brady connected with Danny Amendola from four yards out with about eight minutes left, then hit Julian Edelman from three yards for another TD with 2:02 remaining.
Things still looked bleak when Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse made a falling, juggling, bouncing catch on his back for a 33-yard gain that set up first-and-goal from the five with 66 seconds to go. Butler was in coverage on that play, although there was nothing more he really could have done.
Two plays later, from the one, Wilson attempted a pass, rather than a run by the barrel-chested Lynch, who tied for the league lead in touchdown runs this season with 13.
Butler’s interception sealed the outcome, even if everyone had to wait while the officials cleared up a field-wide brawl.
“When they passed the ball, I was kind of surprised,” Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “But, at the same time, we made the play.”
Lynch gained 102 yards on 24 carries and scored an earlier TD, leaving many mystified as to why Seattle wouldn’t have handed off to him in that vital situation. Even some of the Seahawks were bewildered.
“I don’t understand how you don’t give it to the best back in the league,” linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “We were on the half-yard-line and we throw a slant. I don’t know what the offense had going on, what they saw.”
With the retractable roof open on a cloudless evening, the Patriots (15-4) won the fourth Lombardi Trophy of the Brady-Belichick partnership, adding to those from the Super Bowls played in 2002, ’04 and ’05. They lost their last two trips to the big game, though, in 2008 and 2012, both times against the New York Giants. This time, though, Brady and New England pulled it off and, in the process, prevented Seattle from winning the ninth set of back-to-back Super Bowl championships.
At 37, Brady completed 37 out of 50 passes for 328 yards and matched his childhood idol, Hall of Famer Joe Montana, for most Super Bowl MVP awards. Brady also broke Montana’s Super Bowl record for most touchdown passes, getting to 13.
“He’s so calm and collected,” Amendola said of his quarterback. “He’s the best. He gets everybody to play at a higher level.”
“I’ve been at it for 15 years, and we’ve had a couple of tough losses in this game,” Brady said.
“This one came down to the end, and this time, we made the plays.”